Internet liability rules change (again) after Wikipedia case


Internet liability rules applicable to Wikipedia are different from the ones with which YouTube has to comply according to the Court of Rome as Wikipedia has now been declared not liable to for the defamatory contents published by its users.

We had already covered a similar case in this article where with reference to defamatory contents published by a Wikipedia user, the court held that Wikipedia was not liable for them.

Internet liability principles applicable to Wikipedia

The same conclusion has now been reached by the Court of Rome which qualified Wikipedia as a hosting provider not liable for the contents published by its users even if defamatory on the basis of the principles set out in the EU E-Commerce Directive.

Despited the fact that the E-Commerce Directive as implemented in Italy cannot be applied to Wikipedia since this is a non-European entity, the court held that the general Internet liability principles prescribed by the Directive had to be “taken into consideration” in this dispute.  This was deemed to be valid with reference to the Internet liability rule under which hosting prividers are not liable for the illegal contents published by their users provided that as soon as they become aware of them following a notice from the competent authorities remove the access to such information.

In particular, Wikipedia was found not liable for the contents published by one of its users since

  • Adopted an adequate disclaimer informing its users that they were not able to ensure the monitoring of the contents published on their platform and that anyone could change them because of the nature itself of the platform and
  • Is not obliged to monitor the conduct of its users as the main feature of its platform is to grant the freedom to its users to contribute to the contents of the enciclopedy.

Also, the court added that the ownership by Wikipedia of the servers and domain name did not trigger per se its liability.

New Internet liability principles – Wikipedia vs. YouTube cases

We had covered just a few days ago in this article the interesting position taken by the Court of Turin (Italy) in a decision concerning YouTube where the court held that liability exemptions set forth in the EU E-Commerce Directive were not applicable to YouTube because of the additional services offered by them.

According to scholars, there is no doubt that the activity performed by the Wikipedia and YouTube are different.  However, it will be hard to clearly assess the distinction in terms of applicable Internet liability rules between

  • Those that are commonly defined as “active” hosting providers to which the liability exemption does not apply that apparently include YouTube and
  • Those that are mere “passive” hosting providers to which the liability exemption applies that apparently include Wikipedia.

This is a very hot period for Internet liability rules with a number of cases coming out.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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